By Naomi Driessnack
There isn’t a wait for a seat, but the place is mostly full and its conversations are getting loud. The room smells of cinnamon and pepper. Soft light from an overcast sky fills the room from a glass roll-up garage door. It’s Sunday brunch at the White Squirrel Brewery, and in between cooking meals and managing the kitchen staff, Chef Hannah Coffey visits tables to talk about the meal the customer just finished eating.
“Sitting down to eat a meal at a restaurant or even at home is really one of the only times that people slow down to enjoy each other’s company and experience and not be in a rush,” Coffey said. “So that’s one of the best parts for me — being able to provide a piece of that opportunity.”
Coffey, of Lexington, moved to Bowling Green seven years ago with no intention of staying more than a few years. She worked at 440 Main, a restaurant located on Bowling Green’s historic downtown square, before meeting Sean Stevens, who would eventually open White Squirrel. Stevens hired Coffey to be the chef for his new brewery and she developed the menu four months prior to the restaurant and brewery’s opening in the spring of 2015.
“It’s the first job that I’ve ever had that I wake up every day, regardless of how exhausted I am, regardless of whether or not I’ve worked 12 or 14 hours the previous day, I still wake up and look forward to coming in these doors every day,” Coffey said. “It’s so refreshing. It’s amazing. A hell of an opportunity, to say the very least.”
Tom Holmes, who is one of the owners of 440 Main, also owns White Squirrel Brewery’s building and has a heavy influence on the restaurant’s operations, according to Layton Garlington, an assistant manager and server. Holmes, originally from Monroe, Louisiana, wanted Bowling Green to have more brunch spots, but he felt that 440 Main would not be the right fit for one.
“I didn’t want to open 440 on Sundays. It needed to be a neighborhood place,” Holmes said. “Brunch is about being with your neighborhood.”
Servers carry black plates holding “Hannah’s Rancheros” and “Faaancy” chicken and biscuits. Jamie Resch, a server from Glasgow, wears a tie-dyed sweatshirt that a co-worker gave to her. Garlington checks on tables every 10 minutes, asking politely, “How is everything?” Every few minutes, chef Hannah Coffey emerges from the kitchen in a navy blue beanie and gray tank.
White Squirrel has opened its doors on Sundays for the past four weeks, but they did not see a huge crowd like they had hoped, according to Coffey and Holmes. Two weeks ago they introduced the brunch menu and have seen a major increase in customers. While the restaurant offers their usual menu on Sundays, 75 percent of their sales are from the brunch menu, Coffey said.
“As we grow and get a few more hires, I would like to do a weekly brunch menu and make it specifically special for that Sunday, but it’s a matter of having the time and the staff to support that,” Coffey said.
The brunch menu that Coffey developed had to include ingredients that were a part of other dishes on the menu because of storage space at the restaurant. The menu includes “Faancy Chicken & Biscuits,” a favorite item from the appetizer menu, “Fallaffle Waffle,” a waffle topped with sweet potatoes, “Eggs Bene Pizza,” which uses pickled deviled eggs instead of poached eggs, and “Hannah’s Rancheros,” Coffey’s personal favorite.
“We’re really limited on space here — tremendously,” Coffey said. “My walk-in cooler is about two times smaller than it probably should be so I had to use items that were already on the menu.”
She’s also trying a buffet style Bloody Mary Bar. Customers are given a glass of ice with a shot of vodka and invited to build their own Bloody-Mary and create their own mix. The bar includes over 10 different Blood Mary mixes, several hot sauces, pickled green beans, pickled jalapenos, olives, cheeses, limes and many other ingredients.
Paula Edwards is a frequent customer at the White Squirrel Brewery, and she enjoys making her own Bloody Mary. She has a usual combination, but when she sees a new ingredient she makes a point to try it, she said.
“I’ve already asked them to get bigger skewers so that we can put the meats and cheeses at the top,” Edwards said. “They do that in New Orleans.”
The Bloody Mary bar is something Holmes saw in Dallas and wanted to bring to Bowling Green.
“The bar is going to be something that keeps growing for people to add things they like or take away things they don’t like,” Holmes said. “It just continues to keep evolving with fresh tomatoes from the farmers market and peppers and cheeses.”
Hannah Walker, a server from White House, Tennessee, had her first official shift as a server on Sunday after working as a hostess since August. She works most days of the week, but her favorite days to work now are Sundays.
“I get to see a whole ray of different people come in,” Walker said. “It’s like a melting pot.”
Around 2 p.m., the brunch crowd fades and all that is left are the regulars, sitting around the bar watching the Tennessee Titans play the Houston Texans. The customers at the bar include the building’s owner, Holmes, and White Squirrel frequenter, Edwards, and a few other people filling every seat at the bar. Their cheers are subdued, and the game never interrupts their conversations.
“It’s really a big community thing. We’re supporting local artists, local musicians, and obviously the first local brewery, which I’m a big fan of craft brews as well,” Coffey said.” Being able to be a part of all of it is really humbling and exciting.”